Happy Thanksgiving.

26 11 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is the calm before the retail storm – enjoy it! If your day starts off to be anything like mine, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on in the background while you prepare a huge feast. It’s a day to be thankful for the people and the many opportunities that are a part of your life – which is often a humbling task, but a worthwhile one in the end.

And with the holiday season rounding up in less than a month, here’s to the manic mania that it may just likely be! Remember to take a moment to breath here and there, and enjoy the ride. Like a hot potato that quickly gets passed around, spread the holiday cheer!

Photo courtesy of To The Wire.

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Getting Paid: Ensuring Customer Payment.

20 11 2009

“Show me the money!”

Getting paid is surely a top priority for any business (especially in this economy), but it’s also one of the hardest things to accomplish. Making sure that customer transactions are seamless and reliable is a difficult task, but one that is crucial to mastering with regard to operating your business.

Finding more efficient ways to ensure payment is an issue for many entrepreneurs, making it hard to get a handle on cash-flow and budget projections. In fact, according to the latest American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, 60% of business owners are experiencing cash-flow issues and 26% are now worried about paying their bills on time. Therefore, it’s increasingly important to recognize the tools and policies that can help you ensure customer payment, before things get out of control.

First, it’s important to take inventory of the payment methods you do offer, including those which suit your business best and cause you problems. You might also familiarize yourself with guidance provided by the government on accepting cash and checks. (For example, if you accept cash payment of over $10,000, the government requires you to file Form 8300 with the IRS to capture more information about the buyer.) And with regard to accepting checks, you should probably make sure that your business is rubber-check proof.

As many business owners know, performing payment collections is a necessary evil of conducting business. Here are some tips to make sure your customers pay their bills:

  • Getting paid starts with the invoice – notably writing them and submitting them in a timely manner.
  • Keep your invoices clean.
  • Beat the payment deadline of your customers – know the accounting practices of your customers and beat their payment cycle when submitting invoices.
  • Be prompt with your follow-up – timing your courtesy and collection calls.

Even if you practice due diligence when it comes to invoicing and requesting payment, you may need to indulge in a little creative thinking. The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article about the three best ways to make sure customers pay – in this article, the following methods were recommended:

  1. Figure out your customers’ payment history – ordering an inexpensive report detailing a company’s payment history and profile.
  2. Make it easy for them to pay.
  3. Try mobile devices – supplying field workers with cell phones equipped with Bluetooth devices that allow credit cards to be swiped or punched in manually, granting fast and easy payment.

Identifying more efficient ways to accept customer payment and taking the time to get to know your customer’s themselves is no easy task, and it certainly takes time. But the more you know your cash-flow operations, the easier it will be to identify areas of risk and areas to improve. Speeding up your cash-flow deposits will surely make a wealth of difference to your bottom line.

…And if certain high-maintenance or late paying customers cause you to spend more time on them than it’s worth, you might consider filing for customer divorce.

Photo courtesy of Walter Knapp.





Small Business Holiday Planning.

18 11 2009

Navigating the holiday season is not easy – particularly if you’re operating a business. Preparing your business for either an increase in traffic or lull can be daunting; regardless, it’s important to recognize the opportunities in front of you and prepare yourself accordingly.

Before setting out to structure preparedness, it’s likely a good idea to get a pulse on the market. The National Retail Federation is a great resource for understanding what makes both retailers and consumers tick. And as a small business owner (retailer or not), having a meaningful grasp on what consumers are thinking about this year is crucial to preparing yourself for a successful end of year.

For instance, the NRF’s recent 2009 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey found that consumers are aggressively looking for bargains, while retailers are greatly cutting back on inventory due to weak demand. The conductors of this survey also put together a list of the top ten trends for this year’s holiday season, as suggested by the survey results (categorized for small business owners between these Part 1 and Part 2 articles). Acknowledging these trends may allow you to focus your priorities on the type of tasks that will help your business be more profitable in the coming months.

So what do you do to avoid becoming extinct? Broadly stated, this article promotes the following six success tips for staying afloat:

  1. Bank enough savings – to ride out this recession storm.
  2. Emphasize good customer service – because personal customer relationships make up a key asset that small businesses have over big chains.
  3. Strategize on attracting the deeper pockets – as price becomes more of a focus over quality this year, directing your efforts towards wealthier clients less affected by the recession may help to keep your business afloat.
  4. Look to web and online opportunities – by means of an online presence (or store) that attracts more visitors or intrigue.
  5. Watch your inventory – by finding products/services that can be delivered/offered within a few days to avoid stockpiling.
  6. Try out affordable advertising and beef up promotions – with creative and targeted strategies.

Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week.

16 11 2009

Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week! (November 16-22, 2009)

Throughout this week, participating countries across six continents are coming together to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative to inspire young people to embrace innovation, imagination, and creativity. In these seven days, the goal is to inspire, connect, mentor, and engage young people (under the age of 30) to generate new ideas and seek out better ways of doing things.

During what has been stated as “the world’s most innovative week,” entrepreneurship will be introduced to millions of young people and innovation will be promoted as a vehicle that can take them anywhere. The vision to inspire innovation in youth began with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. There are no geographic or socioeconomic boundaries to Global Entrepreneurship Week, and anyone can participate.

In this Business Week article, Jonathan Ortmans, the President of the Public Forum Institute and head of Global Entrepreneurship Week, and entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, outline why it pays to encourage entrepreneurship among young people around the globe. As they have stated, “[g]iven the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship as a career path, proper guidance, access to credit, and a cultural climate that makes risk far less intimidating and failure far less damaging, young people can unleash their potential and turn the marketplace into a generator of economic and social value.”

Check out the Global Entrepreneurship Week blog, get inspired, and become involved by registering your activity. To find out what activities are going on in your area, click here. Use this initiative to tap into the creative genius of our youth, mentor them, and encourage them to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

Photo courtesy of the Ewing and Marion Kauffman Foundation.





Networking.

11 11 2009

Networking

Networking. Whether you’re in pursuit of new business or looking for a job, networking is crucial – particularly in these economic times. Because companies are advertising less and spending more time on improving operational efficiencies, word-of-mouth communication is likely your best bet for gaining a presence in front of the people you want to meet. And you don’t have to think of networking as just a business affair, personal networking is a good way to meet people who share your same interests as well.

After reading through a few articles about networking, everyone (as you can imagine) has their own spin on how to network and why it is important. In the end, it’s all about time and place. Put yourself in a place where your target audience or circle of influencers will be and attend events that match your personal interests. If you don’t show up, you are purposely missing that window of opportunity leading you closer to meeting your goal(s).

In general, it’s important to do the following:

  • Create a networking strategy driven by who you want to meet, when, and where – use your personal brand and interests as a guide so that you stay on point. (i.e., industry group boards or committees, local organization volunteer efforts, Chamber of Commerce events, etc.)
  • Control conversations by asking others questions about themselves, genuinely listening to what they have to say, and modifying your elevator pitch to integrate key points of the conversation in a way that solves one of their problems or creates a value added benefit for their clients.
  • Think about networking as an avenue to build long-term relationships. Therefore, follow up with each person in a way that keeps you top of mind and relevant to their interests. (i.e., thank you cards, e-mail, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, send related articles, request a coffee chat, etc.)

As you build your audience and meet more people, you will also need to consider what it takes to be an active member in the circles you have joined. Remember, you’re building long-term relationships – maintaining and sustaining these relationships is up to you. If you’re networking online, check out these helpful hints about staying in touch with your online circle of colleagues.

What about making contact with a busy person who seems out of grasp? It’s important to remember that busy people are busy for a reason – lots of people want to connect with them, either for business or personal reasons. They also triage communications based on their needs or perceived benefits. The less you are hung up on thinking that you’re entitled to a response or expect even a short moment of their time, the better your chances of connecting with them. Respect busy people for setting priorities, find the most efficient way to communicate with them, be direct, and create connections with their interests to add relevancy to your communication.

The reality is that networking is hard work. It takes time to research opportunities, attend events, listen genuinely, and follow up thereafter. But, hopefully, if you’re focused with your interests and intentions, you’ll create more opportunities for establishing deep relationships with the people or communities that can also help you succeed.

Photo courtesy of Incitrio > Brand Speak.